An "arhat" sculpture, created about 1,300 years ago but lost more than half a century, was returned to China by the National Galley of Canada Thursday.
The 84.3-cm-high limestone sculpture is the upper part of a life sized "arhat", Buddha, from the Longmen Grottoes in central China's Henan Province. Construction of the grottoes began in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-533), and the Grottoes experienced the period of prosperity in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
The Longmen Grottos, a recent addition to the UNESCO World Heritage list, suffered serious damage in the 1930s and many carved stones were pillaged and taken overseas, according to Liu Jinglong, director of the grottoes research institute.
The sculpture and a separate piece of a lotus carving, originally held in the arhat's hand, were ascertained by Liu's institution to be the bust of the Mahakasyapa from the Kanjing Temple, initially built in the south of the Eastern Mount in the Tang Dynasty during the reign of empress Wu Zetian from 700 to 720.
On the lower parts of the northern, eastern and southern walls of the temple are 29 sculptures of Buddhist saints. The Mahakasyapa is the first sculpture on the northern wall.
Pierre Theberge, director of the National Galley of Canada, and Sophia Leung, a member of the Canadian Parliament, presented the sculpture to the Chinese State Administration of Culture Heritage.
The director discovered that the sculpture belongs to China only a few weeks ago when he saw a picture of the original relief and the gallery's board of directors decided to give their 23 year old collection back to China.
This is the first time a museum has returned its collection to the origin country, said Dong Baohua, deputy director of the State Administration of Culture Heritage. He believes the act will encourage others to return more pieces of displaced Chinese culture heritage.
Liu Jinglong said that the bust of the relief will soon be restored to its original place, to make the 29 sculptures complete.
(People’s Daily 04/20/2001)